Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Andy the Businessman

Part one of this story series.

(Research for this story was provided by "Cast Your Nets: Fishing at the Time of Jesus," by Elizabeth McNamer at http://www.americancatholic.org/newsletters/sfs/an0704.asp)

When I was 12, a teacher assigned a family tree project. We were to interview our grandparents about their memories and get any information they could recall about ancestors.

My paternal grandfather, who I called, "Pop," had immigrated from Newfoundland to New England in the 1920s. I knew he'd been in the British Navy in World War I. And I knew he loved the sea. But other than that, I had nothing.

I remember sitting at a breakfast room table, notebook paper at the ready, and calling Pop to find out about the family's past.

"What did your father do?" I asked Pop.

"He was a fisherman." Pop replied shortly in a raspy voice.

I wrote that down.

"And do you know what his father did, my great-great grandfather?"

"He was a fisherman," Pop replied.

"OK. Well, this is going back a lot, but what about my great-great-great grandfather?"

"He was a fisherman."

My dad, who was listening on another line, chuckled when he heard me sigh.

"Pop, was my great-great-great-great grandfather a fisherman?"

"Yes. He was a fisherman."

We went on like this a few more times until Pop finally said, "Well, I don't know that far back, but I'm pretty sure that everyone else was a fisherman."

Today, as I read the story about Andy's life before he met Jesus, I can't help but recall that long-ago conversation with Pop.

See, Andy's family was in the fishing business, too. Now you might have heard sermons at your church about the lowly lives of fishermen. More than once, I've heard pastors wax poetically about Jesus hanging out with the stinky smelly men of the sea and how great it was that He gave them His attention.

But that description, quite frankly, is condescendingly incorrect.

In fact, fishermen were integral to the economy in First Century Palestine. And the men who owned fishing operations were savvy and successful businessmen. Think of them as active Chamber of Commerce members or pillars of your local community.

Consider the skills that the average Galilean fisherman needed. They weren't just sitting around in a boat. They had to be skilled at marketing their product. Israel's population at the time was about 500,000, and fish was a staple food. Not only that, dried fish from the Sea of Galilee was a "gourmet" menu item for Roman aristocracy. And in Jerusalem, fish was in high demand during religious festivals and seasons. So this required the fishermen to travel a lot. 

And with travel during the era of the Roman Empire came along the need to know more than one language. The native tongue would have been Aramaic. But to converse with those who were buying the fish? You would've needed to know other languages like Hebrew, Greek ... and Latin, if they were selling to the Romans.

Are you getting the picture?

Andy was no dummy.

Fishing business owners also had to be skilled organizers in the running of their operations. They hired sailors and other fishermen to do labor (fish, mend nets, count fish). They were engaged in legal partnerships with each other. They had to maintain their equipment (nets and boats), deal with tax collectors and be skilled bargainers with their workers and buyers alike.

Andy and his brother Pete were in a partnership with two other guys, Jim and John, and their father, Zeb (a really wealthy fish business owner).

And it is against this highly successful backdrop of the business world that Jesus entered the picture and met Andy for the first time.

Tune in for part 2 of our tale ...

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